Minnie Phillips is bracing for her first-period 10th-grade English students. She always has them at 7:30 a.m., a launch time that is an insult to the teenage metabolism.
"Would you please turn to page 23 in your vocabulary workbook?"
A groan. "Can't we just sleep instead?" Phillips runs through some words--assuage, brandish, staid--before getting down to business, a discussion of Eugenia Collier's short story Sweet Potato Pie. "What's unusual about this title?" No one bites, so she answers her own question. "It has pie! Now how many of you have not had sweet-potato pie?"
Only a few raise their...